In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to cross the strait that now bears his name, but it was Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, in 1583, who first attempted to settle the area. The settlement, Rey don Felipe, failed, and it would not be until 1843 that the government of Manuel Bulnes established a claim over the region with the founding of Fuerte Bulnes. In 1848 the city of Punta Arenas proper was founded some 38 miles (50 kilometers) from the fort. It was primarily used as a penal colony until 1877, when a mutiny destroyed much of the town. At that time, sheep brought from the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands provided the foundations for a prosperous pastoral economy.
Soon a significant number of immigrants from Great Britain, Italy, and Croatia, as well as other parts of Chile, provided a population base that ensured the long-term development of the city. Oil was discovered in 1945, and by 1970 Punta Arenas was also the center of a thriving fishing industry. Beginning in 1987 the area became a leading producer of coal. Formerly the capital of Magallanes Province, the city was long considered the southernmost city in the world. Since 1974, Punta Arenas has been the capital of the Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena region. The population, according to the 2002 census, numbers 119,496 inhabitants.
See alsoBulnes Prieto, Manuel; Chile, Geography; Magellan, Ferdinand; Sarmiento de Gamboa, Pedro.
Collier, Simon, and William F. Sater. A History of Chile, 1808–2002. 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Martinic Beros, Mateo. Historia del Estrecho de Magallanes. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1977.